ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE -- One of Ed Werner Jr.'s children visited Santa Claus last week and asked Santa bring Werner home from Kuwait, where he had been trapped and in hiding for four months.
"Santa Claus can't bring everything, but he can try," Santa replied.
And last night, Werner came home to Dundalk and his wife and two children. He was one of 156 hostages who landed at dusk aboard a chartered 747 jet at Andrews Air Force Base.
As a second planeload of Americans left Iraq for Germany today, the White House said that Thursday's evacuation flight of Americans from Iraq and Kuwait is "likely to be the last" and probably will bring home the last of the U.S. Embassy staff in Kuwait.
Werner had been visiting Kuwait on a 30-day visa for his employer, a fence company, when Iraq invaded Aug. 2. His wife, Michelle Werner, said she always knew he would return, and that her own efforts to keep up hope would something to do with it.
"I was hoping through mental telepathy or women's intuition that if I stayed strong, he would stay strong," she said, "and he would be home."
Werner had lived in hiding in Kuwait, his wife said, and managed to conceal himself while Iraqi troops searched the house for plunder.
Now that he's home, Werner plans to "lay low for awhile," his wife said, and catch up on his sleep.
Yesterday's flight was the second to arrive in the United States since Iraqi President Saddam Hussein ordered the release of all hostages last week.
State Department officials greeted the hostages on the runway of the base in Prince George's County. The hostages then were taken by bus to a gymnasium where they were reunited with their families.
After the cheers and embraces of family reunion subsided, a few hostages flashed anger over their captivity and said the United States should have attacked Iraqi forces, even if it meant they themselves would have been caught in the middle and probably killed.
Three hostages volunteered to talk to reporters. Others were contacted later.
"If I was going to die, I would want to make sure that I die for a reason, that somebody's going to go in there and kick . . .," said Richard Anderton, 42, of Larkspur, Colo., an engineer who had taken refuge the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait after the invasion. "We can't let this naked aggression go on. I would challenge anybody to a debate on that."
Based on British Broadcasting Corp. and Voice of America radio broadcasts he heard during his captivity, Anderton thought the U.S. government was sending mixed signals about its intentions in the crisis.
Anderton remembered that he might hear a news report in the morning quoting U.S. officials as being ready use military force, while another report in the afternoon might quote them as still eager to wait for a peaceful solution.
"If that's what Saddam is hearing -- and we don't know what it means -- how the hell does he know what it means?" Anderton said.
Another hostage, Pete Dooley, who had managed a chain of 16 restaurants in Kuwait, pronounced himself "thoroughly disgusted and angered by the position of the Democratic Congress." He singled out Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and various peace activists who have opposed the prospect of American military action.
"These statements weakened the position of the United States in Saddam Hussein's eyes, because he will think we won't go to war," Dooley said.
Dooley, 40, of Hopkinsville, Ky., lived in an apartment building, where he didn't answer the door when Iraqi troops knocked, but watched through the keyhole until they went away.
He kept in touch with other foreigners and with the Kuwaiti resistance through codes by which he would only pick up the phone after so many rings, only answer the door after so many buzzes. Dooley said Jordanians, Palestinians and others free to roam the city would bring food to the lobby of his apartment building and send it on the elevator up to his floor.
Dooley's life in hiding consisted of reading, listening to the radio, calling the U.S. Embassy every day to say he was still there and thinking that "you never know what the first knock on the door is going to be."
In an interview in the gymnasium, David Dunn, a Seventh-Day Adventist missionary whose brother lives in Frederick, said he wasn't home for the knock at his door. He happened to be celebrating Thanksgiving in another house with a British family when Iraqi troops ransacked his home.
Until then, the troops had passed his house by, while looting several others in the neighborhood. The Iraqis stumbled on his house the day before Thanksgiving, when two Kuwaiti youths opened gunfire from a car, sending Iraqi troops diving for cover behind Dunn's front wall.
The troops apparently realized Dunn's house might be worth a visit later. But first, in revenge for the death of two soldiers, Dunn said, the Iraqis took 10 Kuwaitis at random from the neighborhood and killed them.
After Thanksgiving, Dunn's contacts in the Kuwaiti resistance moved him to a safe house, where he stayed until his release.
Now that he is safe, staying with his in-laws in Reading, Pa., Dunn is still asking himself why he was spared while his neighbors in Kuwait suffered. "I felt God was protecting me," he said. "But then I had to wonder why he didn't protect others."